ISU teaches profs to 'reinvent your course for diversity'

Illinois State University is awarding its professors hundreds of dollars for completing summer workshops on how to “reinvent” their courses for “diversity” and social justice.

The school’s annual “Summer Institute,” while mostly offering workshops on standard teaching strategies, will include several workshops for professors on how best to overhaul their curriculum for diversity, all of which meet far more times throughout the summer than their more-generic alternatives.

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In one workshop called “Reinvent Your Course for Diversity,” for example, participants will “reflect on [their] course content and explore how that content can meet the needs of the diverse population at Illinois State University,” according to the description, which asserts that “success depends upon incorporating diverse content and perspectives into our teaching.”

Faculty members who attend the workshop will learn to “incorporate strategies that create a culturally inclusive classroom climate, while facilitating conversation that challenge students’ ethnic and cultural assumptions,” the description adds.

Another workshop called “Going Global with Your Course,” which likewise comes with a $500 stipend, aims to teach professors how to “design or revamp” their courses in order to make them “more globally engaged” while becoming “aware of current paradigms shaping the internationalization of higher education and how these have been conceptualized and operationalized.”

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A third workshop, which awards an ever larger prize of $1,000, will help professors “emphasize the value of citizenship, service learning, and civic engagement” in their courses,” noting that they will even “design a syllabus which includes civic engagement components” while developing a “plan for a specific course assessment where students demonstrate some aspect of civic learning.”

Service learning is an educational approach that combines community service with classroom instruction, often with a focus on social justice issues, though it has been criticized for taking a superficial approach to structural problems.

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Many other workshops, however, feature much more standard academic fare, such as “Effective Disciplinary Reading,” “Fostering Student Collaboration,” and overcoming the increasing illiteracy of today’s students without “short-changing other aspects of our courses.”

Such workshops, though, come with smaller stipends of $50-$100, reflecting a half-day or full-day commitment, whereas the social justice-oriented workshops are “course design workshops” requiring multiple sessions, making them worth significantly more.

The “Reinvent Your Course for Diversity” workshop, for example, entails two full days and four half-days of activities; the “Going Global with Your Course” program begins with two full-days and concludes with three half-days; and the “Civic Engagement” workshop has five full-day sessions..

The only other course design workshop, simply titled “Design Your Course,” is geared toward first-, second-, and third-year faculty members, and does not include any social justice references in the description.

Notably, a professor may only complete one course design workshop per semester, along with up to four one-day workshops, allowing them to earn a theoretical maximum of $1,400.

All of the workshops are funded by the school’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology except for the “Civic Engagement” offering, which is funded by the American Democracy Project.

Eric Jome, ISU's director of media relations, explained to Campus Reform that the "course development and design workshops are, by necessity, longer and more intense" and come with "higher stipends" to reflect "the amount of time and work that faculty members dedicate to the effort." 

"Participating faculty members devote many hours of work to the project outside the normal workshop hours. The stipends are part of the university's ongoing support for faculty professional development," he added, noting that the workshops "are in support of [the school's] institutional core values: pursuit of learning and scholarship, individualized attention, diversity, integrity, and civic engagement." 

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